Readers drive sales.
That’s the big reason Amazon categories matter: they help readers find your book.
You might have heard people talk about how important it is to be an Amazon bestseller, and how that is dependent on the categories you pick.
But most of what you’ve read—and even a lot of the stuff Amazon tells you about book categories—isn’t entirely accurate.
You have to pick the right categories to maximize reader exposure and sales, or being an Amazon bestseller won’t mean a thing.
We choose categories for new books more than 5 times a week. We’ve gotten pretty good at picking the ones that will boost sales.
In this article, you’ll learn what an Amazon bestseller is, how to elevate your Amazon rank, and how to find and select categories that will connect the right readers to your book to boost sales.
What is an Amazon Bestseller?
One of the main reasons that people obsess over book categories is so they can be an “Amazon bestseller.” They choose non-competitive categories, just so they can hit that “#1” spot.
Being an Amazon bestseller is important to some people, but isn’t a big deal. If you’re obsessed over it, you’re wasting your time.
Don’t get me wrong. An Amazon bestseller can be a useful tool for certain things like pitching media, being introduced at speeches, bragging on your LinkedIn profile.
Let’s be clear though. Selling 50 books a day will get you that coveted top spot, but it doesn’t make you an actual bestselling Author.
There are so many writers bragging that they are “bestselling Authors.” There are just as many companies claiming they can make you a “bestseller.”
Here’s the catch: They are not really telling the truth.
What most people call “bestselling books” actually aren’t.
Take the case of Brent Underwood’s self-published book.
Underwood was fed up with people gaming the Amazon bestsellers list. They’d sell a handful of copies in obscure categories and call themselves bestsellers.
It was meaningless.
To make a point, he released Putting My Foot Down: A Book Featuring My Foot. There was no story. No text even. Just a cover featuring…you guessed it…his left foot.
Underwood picked two niche categories: “Transpersonal” and “Freemasonry and Secret Societies.” He set the price for 99 cents. Then he bought a copy and asked 2 friends to buy it.
Within minutes, Putting My Foot Down earned a #1 bestseller spot.
Being #1 in a category doesn’t make you a bestselling Author, and anyone who says it does is lying to you. They’re trying to sell you fake status.
Your book might be #1 in a category, and that’s fine. But there is a different, REAL Amazon bestseller list. It’s updated hourly, and it shows the top sold and top read books across the whole site.
This isn’t just a pet peeve discussion. It’s very important.
Picking tiny categories that no one cares about might get you some fake status, but it won’t actually help readers find your book.
That’s why it’s important to take time and pick relevant and important categories. You don’t want fake status. You want readers to find your book and read it.
How to Rank High in Relevant Categories
Amazon gives every book a few Amazon Bestseller Ranks (ABSR) based on how many sales or downloads it’s had in a certain amount of time.
There’s an overall ABSR which compares your book with all the other books on the site (or on the Kindle store).
Then there are other ABSRs that are based on the categories you’ve chosen for your book. When people brag about their #1 status, they usually mean that they got to the top of these smaller sub-categories (this is what Brent was satirizing).
You can find your book’s ABSR on its Amazon book page under Product Details. Each edition (Kindle, audiobook, paperback, etc.) will have a different rank, depending on how it’s selling.
The ABSR fluctuates based on how many books are listed and how many books people buy. Still, here are some useful estimates to help you gauge how your book stacks up:
If you sell 40 copies in 2 days, you’ll probably hit an overall ABSR of 10,000.
If you sell 150 copies in two days, you’ll probably hit an ABSR of 3,000.
If you sell 400 copies in 3 days, you’ll probably hit an ABSR of 1,000.
The lower your ABSR, the better.
You can also use the ABSR to learn how your book or competitors’ books are selling. Putting a book’s ABSR into the Kindle Calculator, will tell you how many copies sell each day.
The calculator can also help you decide which categories will work for your book.
For example, if you pick a category where the #1 book has a high ASBR, you won’t have to sell as many books per day to reach #1. There’s not a lot of competition for books on underwater basketweaving. There’s also not a huge market.
If you pick a competitive category where the #1 book has a really low ASBR, you’ll need to sell more copies to get a good sales rank. Your market will likely be bigger though.
Step 1: Research Potential Categories
There are thousands of Amazon categories to choose from, but Amazon doesn’t compile them into a single page.
So you have to do your research.
There are three main steps to finding good categories for your book:
- Look for Keywords
- Look at Competitors
- Check the Bestsellers
If you don’t know your competitors or can’t think of great keywords, Publisher Rocket makes this whole process easier.
But here at Scribe, we do this on our own.
1. Look for Keywords
Create a list of keywords that describe your book.
If you’re having a hard time coming up with words, think about how you’ve positioned your book.
- Who’s your audience?
- What are your objectives?
- What are the main topics you cover?
- How have you marketed your book so it reaches the right people?
One at a time, put the words you’ve come up with into the Amazon search engine.
From the results, compile a list of books that seem close to your own. Those are your competitors.
2. Look at Competitors
You want to appeal to the readers who have bought your competitors’ books, so looking at your competitors’ categories is a great place to start.
Go through each competing book and see what categories their Authors selected.
It helps to keep a running list of the categories relevant to your book. You will probably start to see some patterns.
You will probably also notice subcategories that you might not have expected. For example, David Goggin’s book Can’t
Hurt Me falls under both “Motivational Self-Help” and “Self-Help.” Without research, you might not realize that those are different categories.
You can put another book’s ISBN or ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) into the search bar, and click through the categories on the left-hand side.
The book page only lists books’ top three categories, but clicking through will let you see all the book’s categories.
3. Check the Bestsellers
When you find a category that seems useful, click on it. This will bring you to the bestsellers page for that category.
Sometimes your competitors will be at the top of that list. If they found a set of categories that seem to work, follow their lead.
If your competitors aren’t at the top of the list, click into the individual pages for the bestsellers. See what categories they’re listed under and decide if those are a better fit for your book.
Step 2: How to Select The Right Category
Be clear on what you are trying to achieve. Choose categories that drive book sales, not ones that get you random bestseller status.
The goal is getting visibility for your book, but you also want to attract the right kind of readers (who will leave you the right kind of reviews).
That’s why categories should be relevant to your book. Don’t pick “underwater basketweaving” for a book about business.
Categories are organized into category strings, which means that each top-level category breaks down into a smaller niche category.
Your book will automatically be in the top-level category for any category you choose, so you don’t have to pick big ones.
For example, selecting “Direct Marketing” places you in the “Marketing” top-level category.
To maximize sales, your categories should hit a sweet spot between accuracy and specificity.
An accurate category is one that accurately represents your book, so people can easily find it with a keyword search. This might be more general, like “self-help.”
A specific category is more specialized, so it will have less competition and as a result, a higher likelihood that you can hit bestseller status. An example is “cognitive behavioral therapy.”
You can pick up to 10 categories, so it shouldn’t be too hard to have some categories that meet both criteria. We usually recommend:
1-2 easy categories, where the #1 book clocks in around 10,000 ABSR. That way you can make sure you hit #1 in at least 1 category (assuming you care).
The rest should be in the 1,000-3,000 ABSR range. That way, you will be near the top of some bigger categories that actually get traffic. This is how you ensure more readers can find your book.
Step 3: How to Get Additional Categories
The more categories you’re in, the higher your visibility will be.
Remember, visibility leads to readers, and readers lead to sales.
Kindle Direct Publishing allows you to pick two categories directly through their platform.
To get your full 10, you have to do some easy work though.
Sign into Amazon Author Central or your KDP account.
Scroll to the bottom of the page and find the tiny “Contact Us” link. It will take you to a page that looks like this:
In the first drop-down box, click “My Books.”
In the second drop-box, click “Update information about a book.”
Select “Browse categories.”
Select “I want to update my book’s browse categories.”
You will be given the option for them to contact immediately by phone or within 24 hours by email.
Have your book’s title and ASIN ready, plus the categories that you want your book to be added to.
Hint: If you don’t know your book’s ASIN, you can find it under “Product Information” on your book’s Kindle page.